GE Hudson Cleanup Must Release Fewer Toxins, EPA Says

General Electric Co. must resume dredging New York’s upper Hudson River for contaminants under a plan that aims to release fewer toxic-laden sediments into the water, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

Rules released today for the second phase of the cleanup require GE to be more efficient in the way it dredges the river bottom and to increase the amount of toxins removed, the agency said in a statement. GE said it would review the EPA’s decision.

“EPA provided GE with detailed technical requirements for what we except them to do,” Judith Enck, EPA administrator in the region that includes New York, said on a conference call with reporters. “What we’re announcing is going to strengthen the cleanup project and move us closer to a cleaner and restored Hudson River.”

The cleanup, to be carried out during the next five to seven years, aims to remove 95 percent of PCB’s from a 40-mile stretch of the river near Albany. Even then, it will be decades before all advisories on eating fish from the river can be lifted, Enck said.

The EPA in 2002 released a plan to dredge pollutants, including PCBs, that GE’s factories in Hudson Falls and Fort Edward dumped for three decades starting in the 1940’s. In August 2009, dredging by Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE was temporarily suspended when tests showed PCB levels were exceeding EPA standards.

‘Sound Science’

GE will determine whether the EPA’s plan is “based on sound science and that it is feasible to achieve” before starting work, according to a statement. The EPA said GE has until Jan. 14 to make a decision. Dredging may resume in May.

The company has said it has spent more than $830 million on the cleanup and research, including more than $560 million on the first phase of dredging. About 2 million cubic yards of sediment will be removed, said Joan Gerhardt, a GE spokeswoman.

GE asked to delay the second phase of dredging for one year, a request the EPA rejected, Enck said. If GE decides against taking part in the project, EPA will use “all our legal resources” to compel participation, she said.

“I don’t know what GE is going to do,” Enck said. “I very much hope that they will opt in.” If not, “we may be in court, and there’s always the possibility that EPA does the project and then we get reimbursed for the costs from GE. This project is going forward either way.”

Improve Sampling

The EPA said GE must improve sampling to get more accurate information on the extent of contamination. The maker of power- generation equipment also must dredge deeper in certain areas and in most cases limit the number of times sections of the river bottom are disturbed.

Multiple scraping of the bottom in 2009 left areas open for months, allowing exposed sediments to return to the water, the EPA said. The EPA also will limit capping, a technique in which heavy sediments are anchored to the river bottom to hold toxins in the soil, to 11 percent of the project area.

“Instead of having the multiple dredging passes,” the EPA is “limiting that in all but the most unusual circumstances to two,” said Walter Mugdan, regional EPA director for emergency and remedial response. “That means that the area can be covered over more quickly.”

“We’re negotiating the particulars and I just don’t want to give a specific value,” to the cost, GE Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt told reporters after his annual shareholder meeting with investors on Dec. 14. “It’s always our intention to complete the dredging project. We just want to do a dredging project that makes sense and can be executed.”

1.3 Million Pounds

PCB, or polychlorinated biphenyl, is an industrial compound that resists chemical and biological breakdown, and scientists consider it a likely human carcinogen. Before being banned in 1977, PCB was commonly used in fluids in transformers and electrical equipment, as well as an additive in adhesives, plastic and paint.

The EPA says that GE discharged as much as 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River from 1947 to 1977.

The company agreed in October 2005 to remove the PCBs from the river near the state capital even as it challenged in court the law that allows the EPA to order the cleanup of so-called Superfund sites.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Efstathiou Jr. in New York at o jefstathiou@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net.

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